Movie: Amazing Grace (PG)
Released: February 23rd, 2007
Runtime: 1 hr. 51 min.
Ticket Price: $5.00 Early Matinee
Starring: Ioan Gruffudd, Albert Finney and Rufus Sewell
Director: Michael Apted
Rating: Worth a Full Price Ticket –
Synopsis: Based on the life of William Wilberforce. He led the fight in Britain to abolish the slave trade at the end of the 18th century. He fought for two decades in the British Parliament. Those who relied on the trading of slaves were strongly opposed. Many friends encouraged Wilberforce to fight for what he thought was right until he saw it come to fruition. One of these friends was John Newton, his minister and the man who wrote “Amazing Grace.” He was once a captain of a slave ship, who was haunted by it.
Review: It was 200 years ago, on February 23rd, 1807, that the Slave Trade Act was finally passed by a vote of 283 to 16 in the House of Commons of the British Parliament. William Wilberforce, had fought for 20 years to get a law passed to abolish the slave trade and on this day saw it happen. It took another 26 years for the British Empire to abolish slavery completely. William Wilberforce died about a month before the Slavery Abolition Act was passed by Parliament. He did, however, learn of its passing the House of Commons just days before his death.
Today, two centuries later, the movie Amazing Grace is released on the anniversary of one of William Wilberforce’s greatest achievements. The movie tells the story of this great man and his two-decade battle in the House of Commons to get a bill passed to abolish the slave trade.
When making a movie based on historical events, it is tough to create compelling drama, the kind that keeps you glued to the screen, when the outcome is already known. You can do this by placing fictional characters into a historical event, like Titanic. Or, you can flesh out the real characters and situations with a great script, like last week’s Breach. Either way, you need a solid group of actors to pull it off.
Ioan Gruffudd (Fantastic Four, TV’s Hornblower) plays William Wilberforce, a real life “Mr. Fantastic.” His portrayal of this great historical figure from his early 20’s to his late 40’s is done with great fervor. The path of young idealist to persistent leader to almost broken to reinvigorated by love and finally victorious is displayed is well done. The aging of the 33-year-old Gruffudd was pretty good. He was convincing as the younger Wilberforce. But, even with the makeup job, he still looked like a young guy trying to play old when playing Wilberforce in his later years.
Albert Finney (Erin Brokovich) plays John Newton, the man who wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace” from which the movies title comes. He was a slave ship captain and later in life became a minister. One who was haunted by the things he had seen and done. Finney is great in this small role. When he, as a now blind old clergyman, is recounting his history and then tells Wilberforce to use it in his battle to end the slave trade, it is quite moving.
The movie begins near the end of his battle, where he has been defeated yet again, and jumps back and forth between that present and the past. Much of the past story is told as he spends the night talking to the women who would become his wife, played by Romola Garai (Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights). This gets him back on his path and ready to continue the fight and the movie moves forward from there. This flashback storytelling style could have been a bit smoother but was an effective way to tell the story.
Amazing Grace is a very good historical drama with great individual performances, a solid supporting cast and an important story of standing up, against great odds, for what you believe, of persistence in a just cause and ultimately of triumph. While just shy of amazing, it is worth gracing the theater with a full price ticket.
Have you seen Amazing Grace? What did you think of it? Leave your mini-review in the comments.
Yesterday, my wife Donna and I went to an early matinee of Amazing Grace. I grew up in a small Southern church where this hymn was a staple. I only recently discovered the story of Wilberforce while I was ghost writing a book. He was truly an early postmodern both/and kind of guy. One scene gets at this struggle for Wilberforce, will he become a minister like his friend John Newton or will he continue being a political activist? The poignant scene suggests he could do both, which is the choice that he made and the world was changed because of the choice. I was excited to see the proclamation of Christianity without it being in-your-face.
It seems to me that this movie has the potential within a community to serve as a conversation piece about how to undo the social ills of humankind and what a long struggle it might be to do so.